Hello Fargo INC! readers!
My name is Jared Stober. I’m a special adviser to Fargo INC!, and over the next few issues, I’m going to be providing some insight into some of the programs and opportunities that are available to entrepreneurs in North Dakota. Before I start with that, though, I want to give you a little background on myself.
I am an entrepreneur myself and, working at the North Dakota Department of Commerce, have the privilege every day of helping other entrepreneurs.
Prior to joining the state, my family and I built a brand called Flax USA from the ground up. Flax USA pioneered the flax-seed category, and, with a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, we sold flax-seed products in more than 16,000 retail locations, including Sam’s Club and Costco.
In 2015, we made the decision to sell our company to a private investor. As many of you can relate to, though, once you have the entrepreneurial bug, it’s not something you can shake. So this year, my brother and I started Two Track Malting, a company that produces craft malt using barley grown on our family farm to supply to the craft-brewing industry. Once again, I am in startup mode and could not be happier.
When we first started Flax USA, the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the state did not exist at the level it does today. Having an entrepreneurial community like Fargo is very beneficial when starting a new business because you can engage with other entrepreneurs and learn from one another. Startup Weekend, 1 Million Cups and various networking events are things that were lacking in the past, and entrepreneurs are very fortunate to have options like these today.
If you’re not familiar, Innovate ND is a state program that is designed to help startups accelerate their business. I was not aware of Innovate ND until I began working for the Department of Commerce and was fascinated that a resource like this existed for businesses just starting out. Innovate ND has evolved into a great resource that provides financial assistance, mentoring, entrepreneurial-focused boot camps and networking that can help accelerate startups.
In order to qualify for Innovate ND, a business or business idea must be innovative (not another “me too” business) and scalable. This means market potential must be, at the very minimum, a large regional market but preferably national and international markets. Once a business qualifies for the program, the next step for the entrepreneur is to visit with an entrepreneurial center. There are three centers located across the state.
1) NDSU Research and Tech Park – Fargo
1854 NDSU Research Circle N, Fargo
2) UND Center for Innovation – Grand Forks
4200 James Ray Drive, Grand Forks
3) IDEA Center – Bismarck
2720 E. Broadway Ave. 2, Bismarck
Entrepreneurial centers are staffed with experts who can help entrepreneurs develop a business plan, find mentors, and provide coaching and consulting to help grow the business. I personally worked with the UND Center for Innovation when launching Flax USA and was connected with industry experts who helped us get our marketing and sales channels figured out.
This graphic shows businesses that have used Innovate ND.
After an initial visit with an entrepreneurial center, Innovate ND is delivered in four phases that grow with your business. You will work with the center to develop a plan for each phase of the program. Voucher and grant funds can be used for anything that you need for the business, such as prototype development, marketing assistance, legal fees, and coaching and consulting fees at the center.
$2,500 Voucher – $250 enrollment fee
$5,000 Voucher – $500 enrollment fee
$10,000 Grant – $2,000 matching funds
$15,000 Grant – $5,000 matching funds
If you qualify for all of the phases, Innovate ND provides up to $32,500 that you can use to grow your business.
Throughout your time in the program, participants are required to attend entrepreneur-focused boot camps, which are led by Dr. Jeff Stamp. Stamp was the inventor of Baked Lay’s potato chips and has built various other businesses over his career. He has a wealth of knowledge and holds these boot camps across the world so we are very fortunate to have him be a valuable part of Innovate ND.
We have just started our fall boot camp series, even if you have missed one or two, it is not too late to join. Check out our website for the boot camp schedule and for additional information about the program.
There has never been a better time to start a business in North Dakota, and Innovate ND is just one of the many reasons why. If you have a business idea and are looking for some help, apply now.
Want to learn more?
Innovate ND Program Manager